Archive | June, 2012

Mexico revisited – Frijoles Refritas (Refried Beans)

26 Jun

The colonial city of Oaxaca was the standout city of all the cities which I visited during my travels in Mexico. The opportunity to explore its gastronomical delights was complimented by its backdrop of vibrant coloured homes, museums, colonial architecture, cobble stone streets, archaeological sites and flea markets.

Exceptional dishes were sampled on the streets and in restaurants of which many will remain etched in my memory for years to come. Tlayudas, memelas, mole (pronounced mo-lay), quesillo and hot chocolate made from freshly ground cacau beans to name a few. Oaxaca is also home to Mezcal a variation to tequila which in my opinion is an essential digestif and indispensable companion with the rich Oaxaqueña cuisine.

At a cantina in the heart of this city, I recall having the best refried beans to date. We were scouting for a late breakfast and whilst the cook was actually preparing almuerzo (lunch), she still greeted us with her warm hospitality and encouraged us to sample the buffet as the dishes were being laid out and garnished. The refried beans sat proud, clearly elevated and still bubbling in their earthenware dish, two servings and I couldn’t resist the temptation to ask. The key she told me was to use lard or bacon, especially if its smoked bacon. Up until that point I had avoided using lard for health reasons but with one mouthful, I began to understand why people would risk cardiovascular disease for these beans. Vegetarians may use ghee, butter or oil to saute the onions and the result will be similar but without the bacon flavour, and, of course meat free 😉

  • 200g of Pinto Beans or Black Beans (I used black because I was out of Pinto)
  • 1/2 white onion, diced finely
  • 100g of streaky bacon, diced finely
  • 4 Tablespoons of ghee, butter or lard

Soak beans in cold water for 24hours, then rinse, add to a heavy based pot or pressure cooker, cover with cold water, bring to the boil, cover and simmer until they are cooked. Do not add salt at this stage as it will retard the cooking of the beans and they’ll end up crunchy on the inside ;).

Saute onion in a non-stick or heavy based pan in at least 4 tablespoons of melted lard, butter or ghee, add a good pinch of salt to ensure onions don’t brown. Then add the streaky bacon, saute until the fat in the bacon has melted away and fused with the rest of the ingredients.

Once the beans are cooked, ladle into the pan straining off the water and mash with a wooden spoon. Repeat gradually until you have mashed up all the beans adding water from the pot until you get the desired consistency. Alternatively use a blender and add water gradually. Either way will yield tasty refried beans.

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Mexico revisited – Carne Asada (Shredded Beef)

23 Jun

pulled beef

Whether it’s pork, beef or chicken, shredded meat (pulled) is an essential filling for tortillas. I’m a big fan of shredded beef and have made it numerous times. The key is the gravy which should end up thick and include a hint of earthy spices.

For vegetarians, I have used a variety of bell peppers, white and red onion, and, sometimes potato as a filling sautéed in a skillet with the basics (garlic, Mexican oregano, ground cumin, coriander) as an alternate with great success. Cooking time is significantly reduced as there is no need for stewing.

I’ve used Chipotle chilli to take this dish to the next level but Poblano would work well too. The smokiness of either of these chillies adds depth and tones. A Chipotle is essentially a Jalapeno chilli that has been smoke dried. As a result of this process, it ends up with a tan complexion and leathery skin.

The cut of beef should be preferably sub-primal and not too lean. Gravy beef or chuck steak is ideal but trim the visible fat as it’s not really needed. The end result should be a moist but not wet mixture. This dish works well with chicken thigh fillets or chicken pieces too if you’re not keen on beef.

  • 750g piece of chuck or flank steak
  • 1 large white onion diced
  • 2 Tablespoons of ghee, butter, lard or oil
  • 2 Cloves of garlic crushed
  • 1 Teaspoon of each of Mexican Oregano, Ground Cumin and Ground Coriander (dry fry them and grind, it makes such a difference)
  • 1 to 2 Chipotle chillies deseeded if you prefer mild
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  • 1lt or so of hot water

In a heavy base pot, seal and brown the beef then set aside in a plate.

On medium heat, saute onion in ghee, butter, lard or oil and add a good pinch of salt to ensure onions don’t brown.

Add garlic and fry until the aroma fills the air, stirring occasionally and ensuring it doesn’t brown.

Add herbs and spices stirring occasionally. I like to rub the oregano and sprinkle it in.

Add meat and Chipotle chillies then top with hot water, cover and simmer until meat is tender adding water as required.

Once the meat is cooked, remove, place on a plate and shred using two forks by pulling the fibers outwards.

Blend the remaining stock with a stick blender (handheld) then return shredded meat to the pot simmering uncovered over low heat until the gravy thickens.

Add cracked black pepper and some additional salt if required.

Pulled Pork Shoulder

pulled pork

Mexico revisited – The sequel

20 Jun

Following on from Sunday’s menu, I’ve decided to fill in a few blanks and elaborate on my initial post Mexico revisited. The dishes that I cherish most and frequently cook are those that I almost prepare instinctively. I often ring up my mother for guidance on some of the complicated Lebanese dishes and ask her for the recipe. Her response revolves around something like “Let me have a think. Its one or two cups of this, a few teaspoons of this, a pinch of that…”. Its no surprise, she’s been making those dishes for over 40 years. So here goes, just like my mother, I’ve tried to retrace my footsteps and included as much detail as possible.

Click below (I will post recipes shortly):

Pollo Pibil

Carne Asada

Frijoles Refritas


Pico de Gallo

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Mexico revisited

17 Jun

When it comes to cooking (and other things too), I often wonder why I can’t do things half way, why it always has to be a multitude of dishes instead of the basic few. It probably has to do with two things: influences and experiences.

My upbringing has a lot to do with my influences, particularly in relation to offering the utmost level of hospitality. My family background is Lebanese and ever since I could remember sitting around a table, almost every meal was elaborate, varied and complete. Elaborate because dining is sacred, varied because not everyone likes the same thing and complete because one must tantalize with a starter, enjoy the main(s) and end off on a sweet note, dessert.

Experiences? Besides offering a satisfying meal, I feel it’s vital that I share my dining experiences with my guest and try to recreate with as much authenticity the dishes that I have indulged in. I have traveled to several countries and almost on every occasion emphasis has been paid to food ahead of sight seeing, and, souvenir shopping. From street food to fine dining, local markets to supermarkets, sipping on the local street beverages to the luxurious rooftop bars, I believe it’s a must that we delve deep into the gastronomical zone as it gives a greater understanding of the culture. It’s what makes us culturally different that is of great interest and food definitely forms a great part of people’s culture and must not be overlooked.

So what’s on Sunday’s menu? Pollo Pibil, Carne Cozida, Guacamole, Pico de Gallo, Corn Tortillas and Frijoles Refritas inspired of course by the streets of Mexico from Mexico City to Oaxaca and of course the Yucatan.

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Blog training wheels…and Lamb Shoulder

10 Jun

As you’ve probably gathered, this is my first blog. Luckily, I’ve managed to find my blog training wheels! Slow and steady I shall ride this blog bike to ensure a smooth introduction into the world of blogging.

It’s been a lazy Sunday and after a hectic week abroad in the jungle of PNG, I decided to just sloth around for the day. I decided to kick off with setting up this blog and eventually moved on to more rewarding activities like grocery shopping and cooking of course.

I came across lamb shoulder and couldn’t go past it as it’s as rare as hen’s teeth in the average Australian supermarket. After deliberating on how I should cook it, I decided to stick to the basics. Besides, I was not feeling overly experimental as I’d already planned to try to make a hybrid cottage cheese after the lamb entered the oven. Lamb loves rosemary and garlic, they’re a match made in heaven. So here goes….

2kg of lamb shoulder

Take it out of the wrapping, pat dry with a paper towel and then score the fat side with a series of cuts.

Rub the lamb with olive oil then season with cracked pepper, sea salt, chopped up rosemary and garlic.

I don’t have a roasting pan so I used this baking tin with a bed of celery sticks.

The lamb should be covered with foil and tightly sealed to lock in the moisture. Preheat the oven to 180C and cook the lamb for at least 3.5hrs.

A small snack whilst the lamb is roasting: Thin rye pita with shavings of Parmesan drizzled with Lebanese extra virgin olive oil.

After 3.5 hours at 180C. Time to squeeze half a lemon all over it and return to the oven for 10 minutes.

Another close up…

The meat should pull away with a fork. If you find that you need to use a knife, its not cooked enough.

The lamb can be served with roasted vegetables and/or mashed potatoes. I chose to use it as a filling for my tortilla with pickles, baby tomatoes, rocket, a dollop of yoghurt then finished it off with some sumac and a squeeze of lemon.

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